I wish that I could say that I was shocked by the shooting on Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.
I am deeply saddened by the senseless deaths of innocent people who had sought only to seek the presence of Christ and join together in worship and fellowship. I am deeply grieved by the deaths of children in particular, in what should have been a safe place for them.
However, I cannot say that I am shocked. After Columbine and Aurora, Orlando and Las Vegas, Newtown and San Bernardino and Charleston and many, many others, I am, sadly, no longer shocked when these mass shootings happen.
The fact that mass shootings no longer shock me is, I find, testament to the problem.
Whenever one of these shootings happens we offer our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, we look for the motive of the shooter, we debate whether the gun was obtained legally or not, we dig into the mental health history of the shooter, we tell the stories of some of the victims and then we move on with our day to day lives until the next shooting.
It has almost become rote. We know what will be said by all of the participants. We know the steps, we know the words. We can almost move through it without truly engaging.
I participate in a lot of Baptisms. One of the parts of the Baptismal liturgy that gets less attention than the Baptismal Covenant is the renunciations. I have been thinking for the last day or so about the middle renunciation. The person being baptized or their parents and god parents make this renunciation “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”
We don’t think a lot about what that means. But I have come to believe that one of the ways that the evil powers of this world corrupt and destroy the creatures of God is by convincing us that there is nothing that we can do about the violence that seems to be growing exponentially in our country.
We are heading into the season of Advent, the time in the Church year when we are called to pray and to act to prepare the way for the coming of the kingdom of God. I can state with absolute certainty that in the kingdom of God people are not shot in churches or schools or movie theaters or concerts or any of the other places that have been venues for violence.
I will be spending this Advent praying for discernment of how to effectively act to bring our nation closer to the kingdom of God. I ask that each and every one of you commit to joining me in this.
I will be sending out a reflection each of the first three Sundays in Advent. I invite you to join with me in reflection, discernment and prayer.
I do not yet have an answer about what we can do, but I renounce the evil power of this world that tells us that there is nothing that we can do and that we must just accept the escalation of violence in our world.
I do know what I said in my sermon at our Convention Eucharist just over a week ago, “…worship is what inspires us to action to be the face of God in all those whom we encounter.”
I do know that without action, without love made visible through action, the words of our prayers are noisy gongs and clanging symbols.
I think about our own Bishop Brent in the aftermath of World War I. He was horrified by the needless slaughter of so many people in the war. He walked around the battlefields of France and brought back to Buffalo fragments of French cathedrals blown apart by German shelling. He put the fragments on the walls of the cathedral to remind people the terrible cost of violence (the fragments are still there today). He wanted people to be surrounded by these fragments as they prayed at our cathedral, believing that God would inspire action to respond effectively to this violence.
What emerged from that prayer was the first step toward the World Council of Churches, a forum for unity and peace of almost all Christians. We have in our midst an example of the practical power of prayer.
I invite you now into a time when we engage in the practical power of power. I invite you to join with me in discerning how we turn our prayers into action in our own time.